A Chapter on Doorknobs
My title sounds as though it could be from that wackiest of 18th century novels, Tristram Shandy. My original title was “Doorknobs, Curved Lines & Presidents,” but I was afraid that would lead my readers into the wrong rooms of their minds.
The knob is modern. Renowned television antiques appraiser and distinguished speaker at TSU, Dr. Lori said the escutcheon was sand cast in the late 19th or early 20th century in New York, probably in Soho. The style is Robert Adam (Scottish architectand interior designer 1728–92). Note the similarities between ours and those placed by Adam in Kedlestone Hall in Derbyshire (Facing page, above right). One guidebook calls Kedlestone “probably the finest Robert Adam house in England…,” but I’ve heard similar claims for a number of his other homes, especially Syon House (Facing page, below right).
Like some modern architects, Adam was painstaking in selecting exactly the right accessories, down to the finest detail. He would design not only tables and chairs, but also an ornate ceiling, which the master plasterers would execute. Then he would order carpeting to be loomed that matched perfectly thedesign on the ceiling. Sometimes there will be a matching parquet floor pattern or, as in the anteroom at Syon, the marble octagons of the floor will echo a portion of the ceiling. Note also the band of ornament between the statues standing above the columns. After Adam had gone on the Grand Tour in 1754, his designs were full of classical ornament: columns, niches, statuary, drawings of ruins, and classical designs.
The docent at one stately mansion said, “Note where Adam’s work ends.” He had refurbished his client to the brink of bankruptcy, and it’s not hard to understand why, once you’ve seen his work.
Are all those curves on our escutcheon excessive? Who’d ask such a silly question? The curved line is the line of beauty, wrote Hogarth, a contemporary ofAdam, in his Analysis of Beauty (1753.) Gaudi, the architect of the magnificently eccentric cathedral in Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia, elevates the curve even more: “The straight line belongs to man, the curve to God.” Although some of his great work is curvilinear (the chapel at Ronchamp for example), Le Corbusier claims superiority for a different aesthetic: “A curved road is a donkey track, a straight street, a road for men.” Male American civil engineers foolishly followed Le Corbu’s advice and built highways oh so straight. The consequence has been higher rates of mortality on our roads than on those created by the more broadly educated Germans, whose roads handle traffic at significantly higher speeds than ours. Straight lines, it turns out, equal driver boredom, while the Autobahn’s curves demand attention.
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